“I know there’s kids out there that need help. Even if it’s just me, one person, someone these kids can rely on, making a difference in some capacity.”
What’s the result of someone combining their higher education in psychology, child development, and forensic psychology, with an insistent will to make life-changing use of their time?
You get a CASA volunteer named Vanessa Sanchez.
Everyone at one point or another has found themselves at a major crossroads. Between one choice or the other, either of which could have an enormous impact on the near-to-long term future. How do we navigate ourselves around these decisions?
Vanessa might tell you to listen to what your heart is drawn to, just as she did when she decided to move back to Arkansas from California after college. She grew up in Rogers, AR, but was born in California and wanted to return after graduating high school. She enjoyed being there– having gone through college there and then spending time figuring out what path of advanced degree she wanted to pursue.
“These kids have so many targets against them… I’m there to let them know that [their situation] was not normal, and [they] shouldn’t be treated like that. You get to connect with a child and make a difference.”
Vanessa wanted to volunteer, though. Between college, and not hearing back from an organization she wanted to volunteer with for two years, she looked for other options. She had a friend that works at CASA of NWA, and he told her all about our volunteers and what they do. After hearing about the impact our CASAs make, just as quickly she asked, “okay, how do I get started?”
“The fact that I don’t get paid shows the kids that it’s genuine.”
As a kid, Vanessa experienced some difficulties growing up. Her mother had her young, but she always made sure to encourage Vanessa’s growth and push her to go to college. With that support and other help she received, she overcame obstacles that equipped her with a drive to give to something she believes in. In addition to being a CASA Volunteer, Vanessa also donates her time to a children’s shelter where she can further support kids facing incredible hardships.
“You have support [as a CASA] and are not thrown in it all by yourself– I ask a lot of questions and they couldn’t have paired me with anyone better” (CASA Supervisor).
That same support she is able to provide now is evident in her enthusiasm about spending time with her kids, and in her ability to be on top of things. When it comes to getting things done as a CASA, Vanessa says, “we get to be the squeaky wheel; if someone’s not on top of something, all it takes is a few emails and you get the ball rolling.” As a newer advocate, Vanessa knows she can rely on her supervisor if she needs anything, questions about policy & procedure, permissions, reporting, etc.
“No one’s ever asked her how her day’s been. No one has cared to stop and ask, ‘how are you doing?”
If we were to ask each of our CASAs about a moment they had that showed them why they should keep coming back for these kids, we would get hundreds of different answers.
Being faced with the reality of just how little support some of these kids receive growing up, Vanessa had one of her answers right in front of her. Learning her kiddo had never been genuinely asked how they were doing before, or what they wanted to do that day, was something that Vanessa described as “heartbreaking,” and became more than enough of a reason for her to continue advocating.
The kids that our CASAs advocate for also often find themselves at a crossroads–although with significantly less agency– and are likely in one of the most difficult situations they have been in or will be in their life. Oftentimes, our CASAs have an interest in volunteering because they remember important figures that made a significant impact in their own lives; someone that guided them at their own crossroads at some point.
Our CASAs are regular people that simply see a problem, and they act. The impact volunteers like Vanessa make are enormous on their own, and astronomical combined in scale. Even if they are just one person; they are someone capable of making a difference in some capacity.